Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Story of a Prostitute (1965)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part III of V

“He’s a high-ranking officer. Whatever he does, I don’t feel anything.” 

Paths of Glory (1957) meets Romeo and Juliet (1597). “Never let wine or women distract your mind”, says the sergeant, and yet, that’s exactly the kind of temptations that the army is willing to directly provide for their soldiers. As this recital continues we hear the thoughts of its reciters, with minds clearly as “lost” in other affairs as the chant tells them not to be, a sign of the extreme idealism in the army’s demand of what their soldiers should be. Just keep projecting a facade of honor at all costs.

Has some potent mixes of slow-mo and real-time audio, imposing and exaggerated monochrome lighting, and the freeze-framing: yes! As to be expected the blocking is also phenomenal and the camera movement is full of diction. Overall though, not on par with the previous two of Suzuki’s I saw but still, I like how I happened to follow up his post-war Gate of Flesh with his depiction of the war itself.  

Verdict: B-

Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Story of a Prostitute” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Gate of Flesh (1964)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part II of V

“The moment I become a real woman, I’m an outcast.”

First and foremost, Gate of Flesh is predominately supported by its brutally limned environment which typifies Japan’s post-World War II (post-apocalyptic) state, a graphic vicinity that seems as if it’s barely being held up by its many eroding planks and brick walls. The center of attention besides a former plot involving a prostitute fellowship and a runaway ex-soldier is simply found in the many instances Seijun Suzuki has for us to engage with the everyday of this world. We enter headfirst into this greased-out compression of unions where prostitution rings are the major competing hotspots for American soldiers, and everybody plays for teams as much as they do backstab them, seduced by the chances that could immerse themselves of a life rather prevailing these fundamentals of food and flesh.

Perhaps what’s most interesting though about Suzuki’s stance on this time period in Japan is his nihilism towards love as a possibility. So much of his look on emerging young and abandoned older women seems to be that they look towards prostitution as an exclusive means for survival and a steady social culture given all that war has taken from them, and so much of his look on the men seems to be that they’re soldiers mulishly stuck in the past, stuck reminiscing a rather dead culture, looking only for superficial pleasure now. Nonetheless, a euphoric sample of this so-called love would hypothetically alas wake them up to this new world now built on sheer hunger for the bare minimum and nothing else.

The highlight out of all of this for me though was when our Japanese ex-soldier covered his face in front of the prostitutes with the very flag of their country only to then weep under it. Lost at home. 

Verdict: B

Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Gate of Flesh” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Seijun Suzuki’s Youth of the Beast (1963)

Seijun Suzuki Marathon Part I of V

Like Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), this is a neat spin on one of my all-time favorite action movies Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961). It plays too with the inevitable backfire when recklessly seeking justice, this time via the classic search for vengeance. Another self-important with a special set of skills ultimately pins two crime organizations against one another, causing chaos and mayhem to all, further exclaiming the myth of protagonist even in dislike towards these sort of iniquitous settings. Nobody is a victim, and everybody might just be a villain. At a definite, all are prone backstabbers and liars, with glimpses of a fruitful relationship for any of them remaining to be but glimpses. A bleak world it is, aye?

As I hoped, I’m really taken aback by Seijun Suzuki’s style so far. A 1963 release date is already enough to convince me how new his level of composition and blocking must’ve been for the genre — the intense color / light isolating in the set pieces and the single-take shot size changing from some seriously meticulous camera movements are particularly notable examples. Not to mention the quirky (therefore at least memorable) character personalities, how modest the work is when structuring its reserved amount of action sequences, and the engaging experience it gives us being in this main character’s tricky situation that wittily seems to only get trickier as trusts begin to dangle, plus it’s all encompassed by a mystery! The scenes where a prostitute druggy hallucinates her boss galloping off into an unsure distance, a sadist whips his betrayer into the hills, one of our lead’s fingernails is dug under by a knife, and when he slyly shuts the door on a deviant who had just called the other suspect in the room’s mom a “whore” are moments that made me go, “yeah this can be excruciating to watch, but to hell if it ain’t what crime cinema was meant to do.” 

Verdict: B

Seijun Suzuki Ranked

“Youth of the Beast” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor (2015)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part VI of VI

“Both of us are dead as well.”

Men only have two moods: Movie and popcorn with spiritual mama, then literally by the next minute, fighting out-of-body in an ancient war. 

Working seamlessly off of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), Apichatpong Weerasethakul brings back ghosts and draws the bonds made with them out in a dovetail between the conservative real and the unusually surreal — as if the near twenty minute sequence of a princess hosting the body of a psychic to show our main character through only verbal descriptions what their land is like in her timeline wasn’t enough to convince you so. Once more, the filmmaking auteur has something remedial to state by means of these paranormal occurrences: even if its by assumption, imagination, of a real spiritual guidance, you gain a whole new vision looking at and being aware of places as if they were set in a chosen past, shifting our perspective and identity at random, everything fading in on top of one another, not allowing the dominating post-war encroachments of today get in the way of seeing the remaining world for all that it truly is, bringing peace to the ghosts of people and places that surround us as they are what led to the most tangible of refurbishments for which we should equally celebrate. 

Though, Cemetery of Splendor seems to be sloshing through all of Joe’s already established past gimmicks to an overcompensating degree, as if it were acting as a tribute to his opening decade in filmmaking — from the off-duty soldiers, interactive souls, hospital shenanigans, reconstructions of time, an upbeat dance workout concluding sequence, etc. Maybe its just intentional in the name of its ethos, overlaying so much past work into the present to make his optimum project that satiates in the influences; maybe that itself is the new he offers this time around. To quote the film, “I’m happy to know that at least he’s doing some good in his sleep.”

The LED college dorm set-ups were a nice add to the Weerasethakul canon too. The fella behind Too Old to Die Young (2019) did the cinematography? Makes sense!

Verdict: B-

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Cemetery of Splendor” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part V of VI

“By then, I had forgotten the old world.”

The past is drawn into the present as Uncle Boonmee faces his final moments alive, literally reunited on property by the ghost of his wife and the metamorphosis of his now monkey son. If that sentence threw you off a bit, I wouldn’t blame you, but to reconsider for the absurdity that is perhaps Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s most known film, it does however confidently pull off normalizing every surreal element it brings to the table, to a point where even its greatest battle “death” is accepted comfortably amongst its universe’s immortality.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is another Weerasethakul project embellished in its cultural superstitions, where characters associate certain pasts with outcomes of the present, and attempt to plan for certain futures based on certain presents. Although, unlike his last two previous features, the halved structure isn’t exactly there. It’s more like a first half, then an intermission depicting a past life, and lastly a second half made up of a climax and an epilogue. The climax is the most apparent continuation between the first half, where we witness an intense, almost ritualistic conclusion for our main character, insinuating that there are remnants here that can’t possibly be forgotten even in the next life — our evocation just seems that powerful, huh? Case and point, this might just be thee ideal movie to watch if you’re dying, in need of believing in everlasting memory as hope.

…and then the intermission involves an elderly princess f**king a catfish for all Fluorescent Adolescent intents and purposes, but you’ve probably already heard about that infamous part of the tale…

Anyways, like all of Weerasethakul’s films so far, the epilogue here leaves us on an especially contemplative note where, this time though, we are presented a simultaneity of different activities occurring but executed by the same people, as if stages of themselves were coexisting in a timeline. If one ever needed another reminder that this is a piece in aim to challenge the conventional construct of time either in its harmony between spirits and the once only tangible living or prospects of the afterlife and the before, then this is the psychedelia of a farewell to do it, a farewell that feels as if it wants to leave you with the thought that perhaps your day-to-day life may be made up of mystic incidents too even if it isn’t from the ghost of a deceased relative or the returning of a son who is no longer human; it could very well be there in what we know as the most tangible mundanities. The film presents everything as game, everything as levelheaded.

“You created the reflection, didn’t you?”

“Without you, I couldn’t have done so.”

Brilliant costume design as well. I will furthermore not miss an opportunity to praise Sayombhu Mukdeeprom once more for making such things come to life with another perfect-looking movie. Whether there’s enough sense here or not, I could get sucked into the illusions of it forever. 

Verdict: B+

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (2006)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part IV of VI

“I like meeting a wide variety of people… to see faces come and go.” 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul once again taps into some of the endless possibilities that cinema has to dilate on, but uses them this time around as a playful vessel to reconceive the aura of his two creators — mom and dad, and the origin for which they’re about to become such. Just like Tropical Malady (2004), the auteur divides the film into two very distinct segments: one that takes place in a rural and one in an urban hospital. Curiously, the urban segment acts out almost like a revision of the rural, but with a focus on Dr. Nohng (Joe’s father) rather than Dr. Toey (Joe’s mother), and, to an unorthodox extent, not necessarily on their relationship but the relationships of those around them for which they encounter, the fleeting bodies that had the potential to fit in each other’s impending parental roles yet at the least wind up making valuable marks in their journey getting their whether that be from the rejection turned nurturing of one-sided lovers or sick young, even old, patients. Doctors and parents 🤝.

There’s also a conjoined side-plot with a dentist who can sing and some monks that I doubt anyone will mind because it’s so pure and endearing. Watching natural and industrial complexes, religious and scientific remedies coexist and exchanged peacefully is just hella therapeutic too.

And that finale??? Consider me baffled in the best way possible. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography has only gotten more and more immersive and Fez by Neil & Iraiza is an absolute banger. The enigmatic symbolism has me blissfully stumped!

Verdict: B+

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Syndromes and a Century” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (2004)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part III of VI

“That’s static from my heart. It’s calling out to you… You’re hot and wild like a forest fire.”

Film by film “Joe” Apichatpong Weerasethakul sinks deeper into the roots of expressing reality through the mythic after a) letting his interviewees create it for him, and b) disguising the contrived with a physique that reads of pure anthropological sincerity, and now c) mingling them both with his own collection of folk lores and nature-orderly truism theories by literally dividing the two into the halves that make up Tropical Malady.

As frustrating as a movie this ambiguous has the potential to be, the end product ultimately circumvents such by means of the almost euphoric wonder it awakens from the commanding structure of its mutative storytelling. The prologue is the first dead giveaway that this is something on its way to being an arresting experience whether remotely comprehensible or not, presenting a perplexing scenario where an on-call flirtation between one of the soldiers and a lady occurs immediately after the discovery of a dead body for which the men mistreat as if it were their souvenir, then literally sucking us into the remainder of the world via a camera dolly and a dreamy alt track. In following, we are abruptly greeted by a naked, suspicious spirit roaming the same soil, and thus the film sets itself up with the subjects of each act: the front of romance and the hunt in it. 

The first half is essentially made up of a commercialistic portraiture of love, the usual dates and cuddling. The older lover seems to be embracive of who they are as probable partners and the other is obviously a newbie to this public expression of homosexuality, as if he’s still learning who he can be or, for that matter, really is; there’s a twinkle of coming of age to this, but the bottomline is their expression towards one another is shown to be intimate, complex, sometimes assertive and sometimes reassuring, even to points where they’ll gnaw at each other’s arms and hands in such a beautifully primal way that needs no explaining if you’ve ever too felt the urge for one-on-one embrace: “once I’ve devoured your soul, we are neither animal nor human.” 

The second half asks a lot from the viewer, to relocate entirely into fable, and a very docile one for that matter which lingers and lingers on a soldier being drained in the woods till he is mastered by its mysterious creature lurking about. There is no confirmation that this is a parallel of what we had just seen in the previous half, but it’s hard not to assume some connection between the two, thus opening the door for speculation. Is the legend of the shapeshifter an allegory for the savagery of its previous lovers, and the jungle-set headspace their exclusive source of ecstasy that they can bleed into (through familiar motions such as the “gnawing”) as part of their desire to bleed into each other? This hunt reads like an initiation for violence, and yet it feels as if it’s only coming from a place of love, but perhaps a greedy, predatory excursion of it.

Tropical Malady is certainly a hodgepodge of genres in these cases, and at that surprisingly seamless when it comes to stringing them together. It’s a one-of-a-kind movie that begs of you to look through and past everything on display in the language of your own imagination as its and maybe our own — is this the message? — reality. 

Verdict: A-

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Tropical Malady” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours (2002)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part II of VI

“I feel like hitting someone.”

The opening credits drop… *mwah* 

It’s a rare case for cinematic realism to be depicted to such an anthropological and down-to-earth degree especially for a feature-length fiction as it is in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours, serenely exhibiting many of our nurturing practices towards one another with its visibly affectionate scrutiny of this way of life for all therapeutic intents and purposes, sometimes though through its polar opposite also to substantiate the human species’ compound intellectual or emotional configuration, not to mention through our impulsive yet cleanly neediness for control over the environments we encounter as well. In context with the film’s romantics too, it’s always hard to ignore a narrative’s impression when it beholds a classic dichotomy between the old vs the young for us to woe at.

For a director who is building off of his feature-length directorial debut which expressed itself in the form of an experimental documentary, it’s not remotely surprising to see that its transition of a rather narrative / fictional follow-up still inhabits a concrete aura of the real world itself. It’s another piece where Weerasethakul shares with us glimpses of his culture in Thailand, howbeit this time just enough so to create a broader universal relatability to it based on the vague inclinations of its characters stemmed from perhaps their immigrant-based adversities or the business ethics that handle them. 

So great, great, great stuff. At the moment, I might be in love with its unparalleled simplicity.

Verdict: B+

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Blissfully Yours” is currently not available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Objects at Noon (2000)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part I of VI

“Don’t forget my KFC Chicken. Don’t forget.”

One far-out concept for an experimental documentary, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s feature-length directorial debut pieces together in a dense 90-minutes an elongated game of exquisite corpse where talking heads get to voice their own added on fictions that each reveal a little bit of human information regarding the subconsciously desired or simply observed diegetic life experiences that occupy the minds of the director’s hometown. Just a seed of a premise is set up to blossom from community into a fleshed-out fable marked up by the colliding storytelling comforts of its many people; their expansive culture unveiled from a new legend. Couldn’t make out anything particularly standout about Weerasethakul and first-time DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s execution of the non-staged footage, aside from the courteous sincerity it has towards its diverse palette of subjects, but they still successfully complement the project’s inherently fertile premise via some atmospherically engaging recreations of the many recorded ideas extracted across Thailand. All in all, a solid celebratory tribute to inspired fictional narrative by virtue of the open-ended deconstruction of it. 

Verdict: B

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Mysterious Objects at Noon” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part VII of VII

“There’s one good thing about this Ghost Dog guy… He’s sending us out in the old way.”

If Martin Scorsese won’t incorporate hip-hop into his mafia pictures, then by God let there be Jarmusch. 

What’s taken me the most aback after following all of Jim Jarmusch’s feature-length work from the 20th century — especially as we approach the 90s — has effortlessly been from his drive to always experiment with genres. Somehow his last feature Dead Man (1995) and this are both about men with hits on them who must confront their makers, and yet, they feel almost as if they operate on polar wavelengths thematically in their respected western and underground worlds. I think out of all the movies of his so far, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai gives into formula the most with its simple plot that takes from anti-hero classics such as Le Samouraï (1967), Taxi Driver (1976), Leon: The Professional (1994), etc. but it does so in such an aesthetically unique way that you can’t help but not be too bothered.

In terms of style, this may be the most charmed I’ve been by Jarmusch since Down by Law (1986). The meticulous birds-eye view location scouting, the psychedelic editing, the old cartoon correlations, and call me a millennial, but I much prefer RZA’s score over Neil Young’s in Dead Man. The movie is additionally quite textbook dorky even for Jarmusch’s standards, expressing code after code of the old yet lost Samurai ways, setting the stage for a story about dying cultures eating each other alive behind the unstoppable modern ones; it makes the film unusually transparent as compared to his previous features, which could plausibly be a byproduct of Dead Man’s initially mixed reception stemming from its idiosyncratic (yet totally wicked and superior in my opinion) indulgences. It makes Ghost Dog conventionally undemanding to consume given its familiar plot brimmed with badass action sequences that meet grounds with these crystal clear — literally often accompanied by written quotations — moral links to the narrative arcs, but admittedly, it left me pondering and remembering far less about its content compared to Jarmusch’s other films.

Still, it only convinced me further for why I admire Jarmusch so much after this marathon: he isn’t afraid to tackle any sector of cinematic (and even musical!) approach without completely sacrificing his golden trademark for crafting authentic character relationships — the linguistically incompatible-compatible friendship of Ghost Dog and Raymond was particularly beautiful!

Verdict: B-

Jim Jarmusch Ranked

“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.